This post is mostly written for the benefit of future trainees in Paraguay, and more specifically, future Rural Economic Development (RED) and Municipal Development (Muni) trainees. Others may or may not find it interesting, so feel free to skim through this part, but be sure to check out the pictures to see where I spent the majority of my first 3 months in Paraguay (in the training facilities). Also I provide a lot of insights here and there that may or may not be interesting to a non-applicant audience.
It’s a HUGE and detailed post, so come back to it when you have some time on your hands or tackle it in chunks. I included some formatting, which should help if you want to scan and look information of interest to you.
I know what it is like to pour through volunteers’ blogs in an attempt to gather information and gain insights, so I’m going to give it to you straight and try to be as thorough as possible. With that said, this is written from my perspective so please don’t take this as the Gospel on training in Paraguay. Any number of factors will affect your unique experience including the season, your host community, what sector you’re in, your background coming into training, your personality, who your tech trainer is, etc...
When preparing this blog entry I tried to think of questions and expectations I had before leaving for training and also tried to provide some insights into a few things I had no notion of before coming, but which would have been helpful had I known early on. I also spoke with some of my fellow trainees to generate some additional perspectives/ideas.
The welcome book does a really great job at covering all the basics, so I highly suggest carefully reading it (I know it’s tempting to just skim through it). It’s pretty comprehensive and accurate except in a few instances, which I’ll point out later. I’ll give you a perspective on a few things co vered in the welcome book and go into more detail for some of the others.
Some of you may be simply trying to see what your future life might be like, others trying to figure out what to pack, and others may be seeking information, which will help you in deciding whether or not to accept your invitation or whether or not to even leave for staging. Whatever your circumstance, I hope you find some of the information contained in this post useful, and you arrive to Paraguay with realistic, informed expectations for training. If you have questions I haven’t answered here or elsewhere in the blog, feel free to drop it under the comment section, and blogspot will email me letting me know I have received a comment. I have regular access to Internet, so I should be able to get your question and respond within a reasonable amount of time. If you would like to ask your question privately or have a long question or feel the response might be long, just request that I not post the comment and include your email. I will not allow the comment to go up (I have to approve them before they post), and will email you back with a response.
Some of the info/suggestions are season specific. So that you’ll have a reference, my training started May 28th, 2009 and I swore in on August 14th, 2009.
Agenda for today’s post:
- Describe in detail training location, structure, content, and quality
- Provide Packing Recommendations
- Provide general info
- Give overall recommendations
The central training center, called CHP, is located in a town called Guarambaré, which is about an hour south of Asunción by bus. It is called CHP because that is the name of the organization to whom Peace Corps Paraguay outsources its training. For now, all trainees regardless of sector train at this location.
Here are some photos of that location:
There are also satellite-training locations located in the designated host communities, which are subject to change at random.
There were two communities, which housed G30, which is made up of 10 RED and 8 Muni Volunteers. As an FYI, our group is typically the smallest training group. As another FYI, we are called “G30,” because we are the 30th group that has trained in Guarambaré.
RED stayed in a community called Paso de Oro, which is a humble, yet, quaint community on a red, dirt road about 30 minutes from Guarambaré by bus. Muni stayed in a community called J.A. Saldivar, which is a little more developed than Paso de Oro also located about 30 minutes by bus from Guarambaré. Since RED Volunteers typically live in more rural areas, it makes sense for them to get a glimpse of that environment during training, and Muni stays in a community more representative of what their future reality will be like. J.A. Saldivar has paved and cobble stone roads, multiple internet cafes at close proximity, businesses, etc... J.A. Saldivar is a small town whereas Paso de Oro is more representative of a rural neighborhood in Paraguay.
The satellite training centers are called “CHPi” because if you want to say something is small or little in Guaraní, you just add an “í” on the end of the word. Therefore, the satellite training centers are small CHP training facilities.
I am a RED Volunteer so my CHPi was located in Paso de Oro. It is centrally located in the community. Most of us could walk there within a few minutes, though there were two people in our group who had about a 15-minute walk to class. Here is a photo of the RED CHPi in Paso de Oro.
This is a family’s house. The family lets Peace Corps use the house for our training facility. It works out pretty well. Their rooms are in a separate portion of the house, and the rooms/halls are partitioned off so as the family members can come and go without being noticed by the trainees and staff. The lady of the house is really nice. There are 2 dogs and a monkey. One of the trainees actually lived with this family during training (so their commute to class was super short!). This may or may not be your future CHPi. I say that because Peace Corps may or may not continue to use this house as its training facility and may or may not use Paso de Oro as your host community. Either way, it gives you a good idea of what it might be like.I’m going to give a few overall recommendations to wrap this incredibly long blog entry up. These recommendations are both from other Volunteers and myself.
Training consists of 3 main areas: Language, Technical, and Common Areas.
Class is held Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday morning in the respective satellite training communities. Class starts at 7:45 AM, breaks for lunch from 11:30 AM-1:00 PM, and then ends by 5:00 PM. Throughout the morning session we get a few 15 minute or so breaks before lunch, which are awesome by the way! We cook popcorn and stand around talking/hanging out while eating various snacks. Everyone comes together on Wednesdays in Guarambaré. Class starts at 8:00 AM, breaks for lunch from 11:30 AM-1:00 PM, and then ends at 5:00 PM. On Wednesdays most people bring lunches or find something in Guarambaré to eat. Sundays are free. This schedule is interrupted by field trips to actual volunteer sites such as PCV site visit (4 days), Tech Excursion (2 days), Long Field (5 days), and Future Site Visit (5 days). I’ve described these in detail in past posts. There are also 5 “Dias de Practicas” (Practice Days) where we spend half of a Thursday with someone in our community learning about their business or organization and then delivering 2 small presentations in an effort to model the process of what happens in the field. On those days we met up at CHPi at 1:00 PM and usually left by 3:00 PM.
Content & Quality
Language Level testing and placement:
Language is by far the biggest chunk of training in terms of hours allocated, and for good reason. Language can be broken down into 2 parts, Spanish and Guaraní. Shortly after arriving to Paraguay, trainees’ Spanish levels are tested through a LPI (Language Proficiency Interview). The test is basically a one-on-one oral interview with one of the language staff. The scale is as follows: Novice-Low, Novice-Mid, Novice-High, Intermediate-Low, Intermediate-Mid, Intermediate-High, Advanced-Low, Advanced-Mid, Advanced-High, and Superior. The results of the language interview determine your placement into one of three language classes: basic Spanish, Intermediate Spanish, or Guaraní. If you place at or above the Intermediate-Mid level in Spanish, you will begin learning Guaraní from Day 1.
You are tested 2 more times throughout training (once after the first 4 weeks and again at the very end of training). Once trainees reach the Intermediate-Mid level, they transition into learning Guaraní. By the end of training everyone gets at least a bit of basic Guaraní instruction. To give you an idea, of the 10 RED trainees, 3 of us tested into Guaraní, 4 tested into Intermediate Spanish, and 3 tested into Basic Spanish. I tested at least at Intermediate-Mid because I started in Guaraní. To give you an idea of what it takes to place at certain levels, I minored in Spanish in college and studied abroad in Barcelona for a semester. That was the extent of my Spanish language learning. By the time I finished training, I tested into Advanced-Low.
CHP staff preaches that you MUST reach at least an Intermediate-Mid in Spanish to qualify for Peace Corps service. They even tried to tell me I had to reach an Intermediate-Mid level in Guaraní, since I started in Guaraní, in order to be recommended. The latter is 100% BS...nothing more than a motivation tactic. The former is a technical rule, but it isn’t enforced. I can promise you that at least two for sure and probably a few others in our RED group did not have an Intermediate-Mid level of Spanish at the end of training. EVERYONE passes. Barring a really (and I mean REALLY) horrible attitude and terrible behavior during training, you will be recommended for service, and will swear in if that is your wish. Peace Corps will pay for a tutor in your site if you request it. I say really horrible attitude because I saw at least one case of a person with a really negative, unmotivated, and sarcastic attitude combined with horrible Spanish who had no problems getting recommended for service.
So don’t get stressed out about it or let their scare tactics get to you. Try hard to improve your language skills as rapidly as possible because that is the first hurdle to jump when trying to integrate and effectively work within the community. Try hard to reach the highest level you can for you and your future community members, family, and coworkers.
If you would like to get more review and practice with Spanish before moving on to Guaraní, I would suggest botching the first language interview. I know that’s a controversial thing to say, but I told you I was going to give it to you straight.
In hindsight I wish I had done this, because my Spanish could have been rock solid by the end of training with just a bit more tweaking. I was missing some of the compound tenses, some of the subjunctive, and correct usage of commands. I ended up pulling it together at the very end of training, but I could have had all of training to be practicing instead of learning it at the very end. It would have meant 4 less weeks of Guaraní, which wouldn’t have made much of a difference since most of the people who started in Intermediate Spanish had about the same level Guaraní as me when we finished training.
In my opinion, the substantial increase in Spanish is worth much more than the marginal increase in Guaraní.
On the other hand, if you want to focus on Guaraní, I suggest studying up on Spanish before coming and then nailing the first language interview. Then once you start classes you’ll want to make sure to make flash cards early and often, review them frequently, and force yourself into Guaraní as much as humanly possible. If you were super hardcore about learning Guaraní, you could ask your family to only speak to you in Guaraní since that’s really the only way you’re going to quickly learn it. It would be really difficult and it’s so tempting to just fall back on Spanish, but if you truly are interested in becoming fluent in Guaraní that’s a sacrifice you’ll have to make to get to your end goal.
So you may wonder what the class is like and how much your language skills will improve during the 3 months of training. I had very high expectations coming into training, and thought this would be some of the best formal language learning around. I thought it was going to be really rigorous and first class language instruction for the following reasons:
- Peace Corps has been training Volunteers in new languages for over 45 years
- It is a government agency (Can you imagine CIA language training?)
- Peace Corps Volunteers get trained in crazy hard African languages and after 3 months are able to go live and work in a village without being able to fall back on a language they already pretty much know! (I tip my hat to those volunteers).
Even if you decide not to focus a lot of time and energy on learning Guaraní, you should make an effort to learn some basics and the groserias (bad words/vulgar sayings/insults) because if you throw around a little Guaraní, especially the groserias if you’re a guy, the Paraguayans will love you and will think you’re so smart. They’re going to joke around with you in Guaraní, and you can either make it awkward or “aprovechar” (take advantage of the situation) and gain instant rapport, friends, and street cred.
Many of us experienced frustration with the teaching style. In fact, I heard several people on several occasions say how much they hated Guaraní class. I’ve heard this from current Volunteers who visited us during training as well. So if you feel this frustration, it’s normal. It isn’t like your college language classes at all. There are no tests, no quizzes, not a lot of structured grammar instruction, not a lot of independent practice, no reviews, almost no homework, and not a lot of variety (for example in traditional language classes we had worksheets, TV shows, music, games, audio fill in the blank exercises, essays to write, lectures to read and answer questions on, etc...) Also, it isn’t very organized or a logical progression of things, and they reveal things that seemingly should be taught at the same time in little pieces over a long period of time. It’s illogical, and worst of all you have no structured opportunities to practice or test what you’ve learned, and no opportunities to independently implement new concepts, vocabulary, conjugations, etc...I think there are two things going on here. First, in the States, we are used to a style of teaching, which is highly structured, fast-paced, diverse, and rigorous. Second, there are cultural differences between Paraguay and the US, which could contribute to differences in learning/teaching styles. Our teachers were Paraguayan, and remember they grew up under an educational system characterized by rote memorization, lack of creativity, no homework, and almost no critical reasoning or independent thinking.
For the first 4 weeks we basically sat in class and saw one flashcard after another, and then were told to repeat it out loud and then moved on to the next one. After a lot of this the teacher would ask a question to one person and have them respond. Then that student has to ask that same question to his fellow student who has to respond and repeat the process. We did this over and over and over at exhaustion but always adding words.
What ends up happening is you memorize a few questions and answers through repetition and then forget everything else. Then 5 weeks later they start teaching tough concepts and you still don’t know basic verbs or how to conjugate for we, you all, or they because that hasn’t been taught yet. It would have been wonderful to be taught a concept and then given a simple worksheet with blanks where you have to choose the right answer out of several choices or fill in the blank, which would force you to think about it, understand it, and do it so many times that you had it down pat. It would also have been nice to have periodic quizzes or tests that tested a range of concepts, verbs, etc... This way you’re forced to study for it and you could see what you’ve got down and what you’re struggling with. Guaraní class gets monotonous and very boring. I’m being brutally honest here. All of us experienced frustration with this at one time or another, and several of us got to the point of just tuning out and joking around during class.
Having said all that, that is my opinion of it, and your experience could be totally different.
We gave some constructive feedback about the teaching style, and they made a small effort to include a little variety in the classroom. For instance, after 5 weeks, we played our first game, which went over really well. We had a ton of fun and learned a lot. There were 3 cycles during the 11 weeks of training in which we rotated teachers. The first was very monotonous and routine. Just try to get through this one. It at least lays down some of the basics, and a few of them stick around to the second round. The second was more diverse and fun, yet still featured a lot of the flashcard, repeat style. The third focused on speaking, and by that time, two of my three person class had given up on learning Guaraní, at least during training, so we just ate snacks, drank t-ray, took long breaks, led the teacher off on random tangents in Spanish, and joked around a lot.
I say just sit back and enjoy it, learn what you can by naturally being involved in the class and practicing a bit out of class, and then if you really want to learn Guaraní, hunker down in site and get a tutor.
Mike and I ended up having a lot of fun in Guaraní class, and we still managed to learn a bit of the language.
In my opinion, common areas is the area of training where CHP performs best. They provided really great training in terms of culture, health, safety, and practical skills. The one area I think they could improve on, and other Volunteers have confirmed this as well, is Development Work and Techniques.
Teaching Methodology (with examples)
CHP mixes it up quite a bit in their transfer of common areas information. They perform skits, we play games, there are movies, PowerPoints, Field Trips, hands on activities (experiential learning), Volunteer panels, lectures, etc... I have to tip my hat off to the Core CHP staff on this area of training. They kept me engaged, entertained, and learning the whole way through. I’m going to break down each category of common areas training and provide some examples of what we learned and how we learned it.
In order to teach us about the all-important tradition of tereré, we made it and drank it. This was one of the first activities we did upon arrival in Paraguay, and it was a good thing it came early because it sure did come in handy. They taught us the vocabulary associated with tereré by placing the words by the equipment and supplies. They taught us the dos and don’ts (such as don’t touch the bombilla when the guampa is served to you and don’t say “Gracias” until you’re finished). They taught us how to prepare it step by step by having participants come up and actually try it.
We learned about relationships and the language of love in Paraguay through a lively and interactive class discussion in which we compared both verbal and nonverbal forms of communicating interest in the opposite sex between the US and Paraguay.
We learned about diversity through a fun activity in which we all gathered in a circle and took turns saying what was written on our cards, and stepping inside the circle if what was said applied to us as an individual. It was one of a few crucial group-bonding moments. That was followed up by a volunteer facilitated charla and panel discussion.
We learned about the history of Paraguay through an interactive discussion/lecture. I found this session to be one of the densest sessions from a content perspective. It was a one-day cram session on the history of Paraguay. I really enjoyed the session and learned a lot from it.
We learned about Dia de San Juan through lectures, playing the games, and preparing and eating the traditional foods.
We learned how to build a garden by building one from scratch. We built the fence out of bamboo and metal wire, formed the beds, prepared the beds for planting, planted the seeds, and watered them. We even planted some seeds in little boxes and then transplanted them later.
Through similar hands on activities we learned to make glasses out of wine bottles, white wash walls, wash clothes by hand, maintain and repair bicycles, cook a meal from soy products, prepare various traditional foods, knit, and plant trees.
We also learned some basics of equipping and maintaining a sanitary kitchen and features of a model, or ideal, house in Paraguay.
Health and Saftey
Most of the health and safety topics were covered through PowerPoints and discussions.
The health and safety sessions were very informative, helpful, and actionable. Even though they weren’t as interactive and unique, in my opinion they were highly effective. I thought the sessions were appropriate for the topic and learning objectives and provided a nice break from all the participatory activities (not to mention Nurse Mary brings delicious treats and is HILARIOUS!). Topics included maintaining dental health while in Paraguay, STDs, proper nutrition, physical/sexual assaults, policies and procedures, and food and water preparation.
Development Work and Techniques
We learned about non-formal education techniques largely through seeing them in action throughout training, and from having to recreate them in our own trainee facilitated sessions. We also learned about development methodologies and PACA (Participatory Analysis for Community Action) tools. In my opinion, a lot of this felt very elementary and awkward to implement, but I guess some of them could be used to get the conversation started in more rural, less educated areas.
I did, however, see one PACA tool used very well. We created an agricultural calendar with a small farmer on Long Field. After we completed it with the farmer, we could see all the crops he grows, and what months he plants and harvests them. This allowed us to see extremely busy periods of the year for him and free periods, and allowed us to brainstorm a little with him about the possibilities of planting more things to be harvested in the down months, and conversations were started about harvesting and storing for sale in later months when supply is low and therefore prices are high.
I wish I had learned a lot more about different development methodologies, how to do community needs analysis, and how to work with other NGOs and development organizations. This would be an area you could begin researching now if you were so inclined. I haven’t read it yet, but I’ve been told that Two Ears of Corn is a good book and also that Banker for the Poor is pretty good as well. I’m sure there are tons of resources out there to learn about international development work, differing methodologies, case studies, and the different organizations doing development work in developing countries. I’m a development worker and just feel like I don’t know much at all about development work.
Overall, our common areas training was pretty good, and I feel like I learned a lot of practical skills, a bit about the history and a lot about the culture of Paraguay.
I think our technical training content can be broken down into learning about country specific information, business administration, and cooperatives. The methods for learning about these can be categorized into 2 categories (classroom and field trips)
The classroom technical training sessions are held during the afternoons (between 1:00 PM and 5:00 PM) during training days.
The following were the topics of our classroom sessions:
- The Economy of Paraguay
- Introduction to Cooperatives I
- Micro-Economy of the Farm Family
- Introduction to Cooperatives II
- Small Business Consulting
- Accounting and Financial Analysis
- Feasibility Studies
- Different Types of Cooperatives: Savings and Loan, Production, Artisan
- Small Business Development
- Marketing and Commercialization
- Ethics and Promoting Ethical Business Practices
- Gender and Development: Working with Groups
- Working with Youth
- IT and Secondary Projects
Comments on Quality and Right-sizing Expectations
These sessions were very, very, very simplistic. I had read a bit of a training manual for trainers of business development volunteers before coming to Paraguay (as part of my thesis preparation), which was actually really good, so I expected really good technical training. I expected it to be detailed, specific, somewhat comprehensive, locally relevant, and provide plenty of opportunities for practicing the newly learned skills. In addition, I expected to have a fairly specific role and to be trained to perform in that role. For example, if we were learning about accounting and financial analysis, we would have several really good lessons on how to prepare books from scratch and then how to analyze financial statements given the reality in Paraguay. Then we would be given several case studies with data, and be responsible for preparing the financials and financial analysis and finally give recommendations for what to do under certain scenarios.
Or if we were learning about feasibility studies, we would see examples of really good feasibility studies for real life projects, learn any skills we would need for conducting the feasibility study, and then practice it.
I even read in the manual that Peace Corps Volunteers were to start their own small store as a training class, and then maintain and improve that store throughout training. You would have to study your market to determine your offering, find suppliers, market it, optimize inventory, create and maintain the books, manage cash flow, distribute day to day duties, etc... This would pull all your business admin learning together in a practical and locally relevant way.
The welcome book says, and I quote, “The training center is staffed by technical specialists who present a detailed curriculum tailored to the job requirements specified by Peace Corps/Paraguay.” This was not the case at all. Every session was really, really basic. If you have a business degree, you have so much more detailed subject matter knowledge than the technical trainer does. Or at least that was true for those of us with business degrees and our trainer. It’s not the tech trainer’s fault either. It’s the system. CHP trains every sector, and uses the same tech trainers to train every sector. So the tech trainers do a good job organizing field trips, facilitating exchanges between trainees and current volunteers, and in some cases pointing to resources, but they can’t be an expert subject matter teacher.
What’s makes matters more complicated is that Volunteers aren’t placed into specific roles, and every Volunteer’s reality is different. The range of work that a Volunteer could do in their site is huge, and the size and sophistication of their counterparts also vary significantly. For example some Volunteers are assigned to a site way out in the countryside and work for a really small agricultural production cooperative that may not have any employees or a computer. They may need help with their business administration, finding access to markets, utilizing computers, soliciting funds, etc... Another Volunteer could be sent to a fairly decent sized city to work with a huge, very sophisticated savings and loan cooperative. This cooperative could be filled with highly educated people, and their administration could be airtight and computer acumen better than yours. It varies so much from site to site and from cooperative to cooperative.
What makes it even more complicated is the fact that Volunteers aren’t placed into their sites until 8 weeks into training, so it’s not even feasible to have independent study time based on your future work assignment.
I say all that to help justify why the technical training is so basic and insufficient in training you to do your job once you get to site, and to help you adjust your expectations going into training. Don’t expect to learn any new skills, how to do what you will do when you’re in site, or even necessarily what types of things you might do in site. It’s wide open, and in most cases completely up to you to figure it out and to do what you want and what you think the community/coop could benefit from.
If you’re looking for things to study up on before coming to Paraguay, which might help you in your future work, I suggest the following:
- Study up on Cooperatives (What are they, how they work, laws governing them, different types, best practices from a management prospective, etc...). I can tell you that most likely you’ll be working for an agricultural production, savings and loan, services, consumption, or some combination of those cooperative
- Study up on agriculture and small size farming
- Study up on how to raise funds and solicit technical assistance from many different national and international organizations (government, NGOS, non-profits, etc...). Try to compile a list of all the possible organizations with which you could possibly collaborate with or get money from (and send that list to me please! Haha!) Look at their application process and try to find some examples of successful applications
- Study up on small scale community development projects (What are all the different types of projects development workers do, what makes some projects successful and sustainable and others not, different ideologies of development work, etc...)
- Study up on how to navigate the export process (how do you find buyers in other countries and export a finished sugar product for example-→what laws and regulations apply, taxes, tariffs, etc... that has to be paid, transportation issues, sanitary requirements, etc...)
- Gain some experience in practical day to day business office operations (many of the coops are really small and just could use help getting their books, records, processes, etc...organized)
- Polish your excel skills. I here a lot of Volunteers helping build spreadsheets/teaching excel skills
- Build refresh business functional skills (marketing, accounting, finance, operations, finance). There is a good chance you'll be working with either a cooperative that is like a bank in that it provides savings and loan services or a manufacturer in that it is a production cooperative that tries to commercialize agricultural products. Solid skills in marketing (customer service, market research, the 4 Ps, growth strategies, etc...), accounting (building and verifying financials, electronic record keeping, managerial accounting, etc...), operations (efficient processes and work flow, descision analysis, etc..) will generally be useful as you try to diagnose and propose solutions to problems within the cooperative, and share ideas for growth and profitability.
There are two types of field trips: overnight and day trips
Tech Excursion was a trip to Villa Rica, which was home to 2 volunteers. While there we visited a savings and loan coop and a production coop. We also taught charlas in a school and planted trees with the kids.
Long Field was a weeklong technical training session that we spent with a volunteer. During it we talked and sang on the radio, gave charlas to womens’ committees, cut sugar cane, used cow poop to make a compost pile, hoed a section of a field, had presentations from 2 local cooperatives and a former Fair Trade employee turned coop consultant, and talked with a woman about her small business.
PCV Site Visit is where you are paired up with volunteers in the field. You travel, in most cases alone, to the volunteer’s site and hang out with them for a few days. It allows you to see what their life is like. If they do any work related activities you tag along and may even help out. I helped give a charla about the importance of water to middle school aged kids on my PCV Site Visit.
We had short field trips to a few other cooperatives, Mercado Abasto (Paraguay’s central produce market), and Incoop (the “SEC” of Coops in Paraguay). We also had a field trip to a few high functioning and diversified family farms, and one neither high functioning nor diversified family farm.
Of the classroom and field trips, I think the field trips were more effective in imparting technical knowledge. They afforded many chances to see real cooperatives and quickly learn what they do, how they do it, and types of things they’re working on now. The field trips also afforded many chances to learn about agriculture from the farmers themselves and from participating in the process.
Below I have provided my packing list I used when packing for my 2 year Peace Corps adventure.
You may or may not find it useful in making your own preparations and packing.
First Packing Suggestion: I love music, movies, and books so I collected a lot to take with me. I collected all them in electronic format. I put the books and music on my internal hard drive and the movies on my external hard drive. I have over 130 movies plus several seasons of TV shows. I have some professional reading goals including studying for the GMAT, learning about business functions and different industries, and preparing for some rigorous job interviews when I get back to the states so I collected over 500 eBooks (I know that’s borderline ridiculous but it was free and now I have a decent sized electronic library I can choose from or use as reference materials). I also collected a ton of music, over 75 GB. Once you get to your site, you’ll have plenty of time on your hands so having plenty of movies, music, and books to keep you entertained is a really good thing! So if you have some time on your hands between now and your staging date, I recommend downloading some stuff to take with you. If you don’t know how you just download the torrent from piratebay.org and then open it in frostwire, utorrent, or another torrent program. Let it download and wahlah. Check out the comments and look for torrents with a lot of seeders and not a lot of leechers. I brought two 500 GB Western Digital Passport External Hard Drives with me. One I use for a time machine backup (for you Macs out there), and one for storing things. I also have a 16 GB Corsair Flash Voyager flash drive with me, which is really convenient.
Top 10 Most Useful Things (Outside of normal clothes and toiletries, which are givens):
1. Sleeping Bag-A sleeping bag is absolutely critical. It’s easy to seriously underestimate how cold it gets during the winter, and since there is no indoor heating, it’s freezing during the night. Your sleeping bag plus some clothes and an additional blanket, which your host family will provide, will keep you warm and cozy at night. You will also need to take your sleeping bag with you on all of the overnight trips you go on. It ensures a warm night’s sleep, and keeps you from having to put your face and head on questionable pillows and sheets (if you buy one with a hood). The hood will also keep you warm on extra cold nights, but you don’t have to use it. When it is warm I unzip the bag and use it like a blanket, or sleep on top of it with just a sheet covering me. There was a Volunteer in our group who neglected to bring one, and he regretted it majorly.
Suggestions for what type to buy- I bought a warm weather (40 degree), but lightweight bag, which packs down really tight, making it super tiny. It’s called the Lafuma Warm-n-Light 600 Down. This has worked out perfect. It packs down to the size of a Nalgene bottle, which has been really nice, since it doesn’t force me to use one backpack over another when going on trips, and its not heavy or awkward to carry around. Plus it literally doesn’t take up hardly any room in my backpack, which is awesome. I saw other volunteers lugging around bulky sleeping bags or having to carry huge packs on a short trip. You don’t want this to happen to you because big backpacks or carrying your sleeping bag outside of your pack is just not a good situation on Paraguayan buses. It’s really crowded and bumpy so you want to be as streamlined as possible.
You don’t need a cold weather bag, because it never gets super cold in Paraguay. Our worst day during the winter was 32 degrees Fahrenheit, but because you don’t have any heat inside, you feel it much more than you do in the States. Because most of the days are pretty mild and the summers are extremely hot, it makes sense to buy a bag that is lightweight and warm weather, because it will do the job on the super cold nights if you combine it with some clothes and maybe an extra blanket on top.
I ended up going with down instead of synthetic because of the size savings. I questioned that decision because I was worried about getting it wet, but it has yet to get wet, and I’ve talked to some major outdoors type people who said their bag never gets wet. I had one friend who used a synthetic bag and was thankful because his got wet on a few occasions and dried really quickly, but he was hiking the AT, and slept outside without a tent. I don’t think this will be your reality here in Paraguay.
Based on my research a few other great options would be the Lamina 45 and Ultra Lamina 45 by Mountain Hardware.
2. Laptop- I know the Welcome Book says not to bring it but that is a bunch of BS, and even the Country Director here says he wants to change how the Welcome Book reads about bringing laptops to Paraguay. If you’re worried about losing your data if your laptop were to be stolen, just back it up on an external drive and leave that at home or even bring it with you and keep it in a separate, secure location. Other than that, insurance will buy you a new laptop or even if you have to go out of pocket for a new one, I think it would be worth it.
You could be one of those people that wants to go into the Peace Corps and abandon all technology, eat organic, live exactly as the locals do, etc... If that is the case, then by all means leave your laptop, but I bet a few months into your campo site, boredom will suffocate you and leave you regretting your decision to not bring your laptop. I’ve got a friend whose laptop messed up in training (through no fault of Paraguay) so he doesn’t have one now, and he is so bored. He said he thought he never would get bored of books, but he has. He is now up to a high score of 3005 on snake, the most fun game that comes on our basic cell phones.
And to the point of living like locals...while it is true that most don’t have laptops or even computers in their homes, my host sister actually has one, and I have met a lot of people who do have computers in their home, including my host brother and very humble brother-in-law from training. As for abandoning technology, Peace Corps issues you a cell phone, and almost everyone has TVs and cable in their homes...
My laptop is so useful. I use it as an alarm clock, which wakes me up to pleasant music everyday. I use it to watch movies when I’m bored, sick, or just want to hang out alone in bed. I listen to music, read books, write blog entries, edit photos to post on the blog, store pictures, create spreadsheets, store electronic files Peace Corps gives, have access to most of my records, and even navigate the Internet since my cooperative has Internet. It is your entertainment box, and often becomes the entertainment for your host family. They love looking at your pictures on the computer or watching home movies you’ve taken in the past or while in Paraguay, often times of them. I’ve used it to show them maps or Google Earth as well. Plus I think when the kids see you using it, it instills a burning desire to know how to use it one day, so they will be more likely to learn typing and basic computer skills, which will be a huge asset in their future careers.
3. iPod- Imagine this. You are sitting on a 5-hour bus ride to your new site. You put on a playlist you created especially for this trip. Or, you are in a little van with some of your fellow Volunteers, and everyone else is listening to their iPod. Or, you and a few other Volunteers are drinking at a fellow Volunteer’s house, and someone happens to have some iPod speakers. Enough said.
4. Digital Camera- Taking pictures and videos of your journey is a must!
5. Backpacks- I brought 3 backpacks (small, medium, and large). They have all been incredibly useful...the small backpack for going to class and day trips, the medium for carrying my laptop and short overnight trips, and the large for long overnight trips and traveling around and outside of Paraguay. When I originally came to Paraguay, 2 of those backpacks (the large and the small) were empty. This proved a great strategy since I accumulated things between arriving to Paraguay and leaving for my site. You accumulate a lot of books, papers, notebooks, maybe some clothes and other little things you buy along the way.
6. Windup Flashlight- The electricity goes out often and without notice, so having a flashlight handy is a great idea. It has proven very useful to me on several occasions, including once when I fell in a mud puddle, and used it to retrace my steps and find my camera once I realized I had lost it.
7. A good water bottle- This is harder to find here than you might think, and it’s really useful to have on long bus trips or just to take to class with you.
8. Rain Gear- Sometimes it rains, and you gotta truck through the mud and the muck in the rain to get where you’re going. Then you have to sit wherever you’re at for hours on end, so it’s a good idea to have rain gear to wear. This way you can shed it once you get where you’re going and you won’t be soaking wet and miserable. I bought a Marmot precip rain jacket and the Marmot precip full zip rain pants. They are super light, and the rain jacket packs into one of its pockets, so it’s been really convenient to throw in my pack on a questionable day or for overnight trips.
9. Good, Warm Gloves- It’s really hard to find really good, warm gloves here. Trust me, I tried and failed. I lost my original pair I brought with me, so after suffering a bit with the pair I bought here, my Mom sent me another pair.
10. Warm Socks- The biggest problem I had during the winter was keeping my feet warm. My feet were freezing! My Mom ended up sending me some UnderArmour socks that worked out pretty well. I can give you two suggestions. First wait for a while after you shower to put your socks on, to give them plenty of time to truly dry. It’s not enough to just dry your feet with a towel. Second, double up socks and change midway through the day. The local remedy of keeping feet warm is to warm up some water, dip your feet in it, dry them, and then put your socks on. I didn’t end up trying this method but the locals swear by it.
High-level Comments on packing:
I want to comment on the dress code the welcome book talks about. Don’t worry about it. Apart from wearing shorts, pretty much anything goes. Most people wore jeans, tee shirts, jackets and/or hoodies, etc.. to class. There are a few times where a decent business casual outfit is required, including trips to nice coops or Incoop, and swearing in. Even during the trip to Incoop, some people were pretty casually dressed. That being said, I wish I had brought more casual clothes and less business casual clothes. You are likely to work in a setting in which you won’t need standard business casual attire. From what I’ve seen, most Volunteers wear jeans, tee shirts, and sandals, and then dress business casual for special meetings, etc... My specific coop is very business formal, but there is a uniform, which they are going to provide me, and right now I go to work everyday in a pair of khakis and a short sleeve button up.
I did not anticipate too much cold weather, so I didn’t bring a jacket suitable to wear with business casual, and I wish I had. It doesn’t need to be super formal, like a jacket you would wear with a suit, but not super casual, like what you would wear with a tee shirt out to the movies on a fall night in the States...something lightweight and semiformal.
In seeking feedback from a few other male Volunteers, one Volunteer suggested to buy quick dry stuff (boxers, shirts, etc...). He said it’s worked out nicely for him. He also said when buying new things to maybe buy them a little bit small because they will stretch out in the washing process here. I can ditto that for a pair of my socks and one of my long sleeve knits. They hand wash a lot and I think when they go to scrubbing on them, it stretches them out. This didn’t happen to the majority of my clothes, but for a few articles it was certainly true. Also one Volunteer said not to bring white tennis shoes. The dirt roads and general dirty conditions will ruin them quickly, and Paraguayans take notice to dirty shoes. One of our fellow Volunteers caught a lot of strange stares for his dirty sneaks. Especially the tennis shoes, which have that net material tends to soak up dirt and it’s hard if not impossible to get it out. They say not to bring white tennis shoes, and I agree, but I didn’t bring regular tennis shoes at all, and I regret that decision. Shoes are super expensive on your salary here, and you may end up wanting them once in site. My site has mostly paved and cobblestoned roads, and I would love to have my sneaks. The closest thing I brought is a pair of New Balance hiking shoes.
Two solid pair of comfortable jeans are critical. Sometimes one of your pair will be dirty or in the multi-day laundry process.
Long underwear for wearing under your clothes is a definitely a good idea, as well as plenty of tee shirts and other type of shirts you like. Tee shirts don’t take up that much room, and I wish I had brought more of those and less polos/button-ups.
Rubber flip-flops are a must have for the shower, but you can easily buy a pair anywhere here. I forgot to bring a pair, and ended up just buying a pair off the street. They’re working out great and they were super cheap.
You can find a lot more than you might think here in the way of toiletries. Name brand soaps, shampoos, toothpaste, shaving cream, razors, lotion, and even in some cases contact solution is pretty easy to find here, especially in San Lorenzo, Asunción, or any other big city or even small cities and towns in nice pharmacies. So don’t worry about bring large quantities of that stuff. Just bring enough to get you through training, and then reload before going to site or a few weeks after.
What is hard to find, of the things I use, is hair stuff (pomade, gel, etc...), lufas, and facial moisturizer. Unless you have specific needs or can’t live without an exact name brand or line within a name brand, I think you’ll be fine with what’s available. They have Dove, Pantene Pro-V, Colgate, Gillette, etc...
Also, if you wear contacts, you’re completely straight to wear them here. I have been wearing mine without any problems at all, and have even seen a few places to buy contact solution. If you like wearing your contacts instead of glasses, don’t let the welcome book scare you. You will be fine wearing them here. In fact, I’ve been wearing mine more here than I did in the States.
Regarding Miscellaneous Items:
I have been told to bring more Gatorade powder than you might originally think to bring. One Volunteer has run out 3 months in and really wishes he had more. I, on the other hand, still have my one tub of Gatorade powder left in tact, but that’s because I’m treating it like medicine only to be used during extreme sickness and dehydration. He’s treating his like a delicious drink to treat himself with.
Compact iPod speakers are a great idea. Whether you’re hanging out with Volunteers in a hotel room, using it as entertainment and background noise while t-raying with your host fam, or just using it in your room, it’s a handy thing to have.
The Swiss Army knife has come in handy several times, and I bet if you get a really campo site, it might be even more useful than I have found it.
Two regular towels has been really useful as well. The family’s towels suck. Their either really thin or really dirty and gross. I haven’t seen a place to buy a decent towel yet, and you don’t want to use your camping towel everyday. Save the camping towel for your overnight trips.
The playing cards have been awesome. I played a lot of Go Fish with the kids, and they loved it.
The print photos are also nice to have. I used them to show my host fam my previous life, and also used them in an assignment to talk about your family in Guaraní class. Some people used theirs during their 10 minute self presentation everyone has to give during training.
Only you can decide what’s right for you to bring in this department, but I will say that the medical support from Peace Corps is awesome, and you literally have access to just about anything you want. So if space is a concern, and you’re wondering whether or not to bring some meds, I’d say lean towards either not bringing them or bringing a small supply, because Medical Mary and the Peace Corps Medical Office will hook you up! They have everything you can imagine needing!
I ended up buying gifts in the airport. I bought candy for the father and/or children and a little box of several perfumes for the mother. They were well received. Some people didn’t bring gifts and that was fine as well. I think some American candy is a great idea, because if there are children in the family they will love it, and if not, you could always eat it. The dad is the hardest to buy for, so I’ll leave you to your creative genius to think of a gift for him. Something small and thoughtful just as a gesture will go over well with your new family and get your relationship off to a great start!
During training your pay is 15,000 Gs (or $3) per day. You get the paycheck every 15 days or so on Wednesdays in Guarambaré. Sometimes you get special amounts to cover expenses for a trip you have to go on. The paychecks aren’t scheduled on an exact basis. Somehow they have figured this out down to a science, because the money you receive is exactly enough to give you enough money to pay for transportation buy some snacks and meals from time to time, drink a little, spend some time on the Internet, and buy a few items. I actually had some money left over after training was over and added it to the money we received for our settling in allowance and prorated portion of that month’s salary.
Unless things change, which they might be soon towards more money, you will receive 2 million Gs ($400) as a settling in allowance and receive one of three amounts (1.2 million Gs or $240, 1.4 million Gs or $280, or 1.6 million or $320) as a monthly paycheck deposited into your bank account around the 25th of each month. Your level will be decided based upon how rural or urban your site it. If you are in a really rural site, you’ll receive the lowest pay level, in a small town, the mid level, and if your site is a small city, the highest pay level.
Peace Corps Support and Resources:
You have access to the Peace Corps library. The library has 6 computers and one librarian. The upstairs is pretty small and is the official library. They try to concentrate on technically relevant books for this portion of the library. The downstairs is Volunteer supplied and maintained. It’s mostly full of pleasure reading material. There are also some cabinets, which contain quasi reports of past projects and Volunteer experiences, info on Paraguay, etc... but none of it is electronically codified so you just kind of have to scan through to find something relevant to what you’re looking for.
Your APCD and Volunteer Coordinator are very busy traveling to new and existing sites and placing Volunteers, but they can be knowledgeable resources for your inquiries. Our particular APCD and her staff of AAPCD and Volunteer Coordinator are AWESOME and ON POINT! I think they are doing a fabulous job, and think they will prove a great resource for me as my service progresses.
There is technically an internal knowledge sharing system called sharepoint, but it’s awful, difficult to access outside the office, and all but impossible to upload/contribute to, and there isn’t a lot on it yet. This is an area Peace Corps could stand to invest in.
You also have your fellow Peace Corps Volunteers, which can be a resource for helping you answer questions, brainstorm ideas, perform research, or help you organize and launch projects.
I have said it before, but I’ll say it again...there is electricity, and most of the time it is functional but it does go out from time to time. You don’t have to worry about a converter because most (if not all) of your electronics can handle the voltage. All you need is an adapter, and sometimes you don’t even need this as some of the oulets are American style. I bought one in a hardware store here for super cheap and it has 4 outlets in it.
Paraguay doesn’t ground it’s electricity so it can be very dangerous to take a shower, cook, etc... during a storm. In fact, when it storms in my town, they shut the whole town’s electricity down rather than deal with possible hazards. In my training community, the least little storm would knock the power out, and sometimes it would go out randomly without a storm.
Also, something to do with their circuit breakers causes the system to overload if too many things are running and pulling electricity at once. For example, in my house we had a small electric heater, which could not be used while the shower was running, or the whole house would lose electricity. Mainly the problem comes when someone tries to shower if too many appliances and electronics are running.
If this happens, you simply have to unplug whatever is causing the overload and go flip the switch at the circuit breaker.
The water is fine. In the really rural areas a lot of Volunteers get Giardia, which causes nausea and diarrhea. Because of this some really campo Volunteers boil their water or put it in clear, plastic bottles and leave them in the sun for a while to purify it, but most people don’t have a problem drinking the water.
I’ve been drinking the water from all over without any problems so far. Knock on wood.
The winter is pretty mild comparatively speaking, but it can and does drop down to zero on a few occasions during the winter. It’s very sporadic though, it might be freezing one week and the next week be beautiful, spring-like days. Just prepare for some really cold periods and some lovely periods. You’ll get those days where it’s freezing in the morning and hot in the afternoon as well.
The Spring is beautiful. It’s mostly nice, warm weather will a pleasant breeze. It’s been hovering between 70 and 85 the last few weeks here.
I haven’t experienced it yet, but I’m told the summer is really really really HOT! I’m told temps get to 40 degrees Celcsius, 104 degrees Fahrenheit during the summer. 104 doesn’t sound awful but add a humidity factor to that and you’ve got the recipe for swealtering. Imagine Phoenix with the South’s humidity. This is where the t-ray comes in handy.
I’m going to be honest, I was worried about the language situation before I came, and couldn’t get a whole lot of insight into what it was like from research online. I was going to accept the invitation regardless but I still wanted to know what the Guaraní/Spanish situation was like for Volunteers.
I even talked to the placement office to see if there was a chance at getting my placement switched to another predominantly Spanish speaking country that was leaving around the same time frame. I was actually really worked up about it because I have spent so much time learning Spanish and really wanted to become super fluent during my Peace Corps service for personal and professional reasons. So when I found out I was going to Paraguay, which apparently spoke mostly Guaraní, especially in the types of places RED Volunteers are sent, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to accomplish this goal. Frankly I didn’t feel like learning Guaraní, and thought that I could be way more effective if I could hit the ground running being that I already spoke pretty decent Spanish instead of struggling to learn the language for a year or more before really being able to be effective in my technical role.
Here is the deal on the ground in Paraguay. Most Paraguayans speak both. So at the very least, if you address people in Spanish they will respond in Spanish. I have heard of lots of Volunteers in sites that are Guaraní dominated who still don’t learn Guaraní. This poses some problems since learning and speaking Guaraní gains a Volunteer tons of rapport with the locals, and since you won’t be able to understand a lot of side conversations that you hear, and most of the good stuff is said in Guaraní in the Guaraní dominated sites.
Some families speak mostly Guaraní in the house and some families speak mostly Spanish. In the really, really rural areas, you will find most people speaking Guaraní, and in the more urban areas you will find people speaking mostly Spanish. On a very rare occasion you will find people in the campo, mostly old folk, who don’t speak Spanish, and find people in more urban areas, mostly young folk, who don’t speak Guaraní.
For example, I live in a town of about 18,000 (it is much smaller than that sounds), and though Guaraní is thrown around a litte, I mostly hear Spanish, and Spanish is the main language spoken in the house between family members. My host sister doesn’t speak Guaraní very well, and I meet other young professionals who also claim not to speak Guaraní very well. I haven’t met anyone who doesn’t speak Spanish. Sometimes I hear my host mother speaking in Guaraní on the telephone and she addresses her maids in Guaraní as well. When I’m hanging out with all guys, Guaraní is spoken a lot more frequently. At work it’s almost 100% Spanish, and when ladies are around, usually Spanish is spoken. That’s my situation.
I have friends that got placed in sites that are more Guaraní dominated. They say it would be detrimental personally and professionally not to learn Guaraní because of how prevalent it is. So it is totally possible to have either of the two situations or somewhere in between.
The good news is you get some say-so. You will have several opportunities to express your wishes in terms of site placement. I think there are 2 formal interviews between you and the APCD and Volunteer Coordinator, and one sheet to fill out. The staff does an excellent job placing you where you need to be. I was clear about my wish to be placed in a semi-urban (not big city but not really rural) site that speaks mostly Spanish, and that’s exactly what I received. I had a friend in training who requested really campo and Guaraní speaking, and that’s exactly what he got.
So though you may not be quite as well off as your counterparts from other Spanish speaking countries from a language fluency standpoint, it is entirely possible to speak mostly Spanish during your service and develop fluency in the language. Also, if you are excited to learn Guaraní, you’ll find the people very welcoming to your attempts to learn and practice it. It gives you something to talk about other than the weather, and they find it funny and endearing.
That’s about as good as I can do in giving you the lowdown on the language situation for Volunteers in Paraguay.
Staying in touch with people back home is not terribly hard. Though you won’t have a ton of time to go, there is an Internet café, or cyber as it’s called here, just a block from the training center in Guarambaré. There are also a few scattered around in J.A. Saldivar and two within a 20 minute walk of the training center in Paso de Oro. The computers in the café are already equipped with Skype and video cameras; so many Volunteers scheduled Skype sessions with their family and friends while in training. Needless to say there is always email, Facebook, Myspace, and instant messaging.
It is free to receive phone calls in Paraguay, so you can give your family your host family’s cell number and have your family call you on that. Be sure to schedule times though because if your parents don’t speak Spanish there could be some communication issues. It is really expensive to call the states, so that isn’t really an option.
Of course there is always old-fashioned snail mail as well, which takes a few weeks to arrive, but is actually a very pleasant experience. I can’t really remember I time that I received a letter in the mail other than a birthday card or something, and so it was cool to receive a letter.
Once you swear in, your communication situation could change for the positive or negative depending on your placement. I was placed in a site at a coop that has Internet, so I have access to Internet every day. Other Volunteers have less frequent access. There is always the option of buying a Tigo USB modem and paying a monthly fee of like 180,000 Gs ($36) for unlimited access. You make enough to afford this so it’s an option. There will likely be an internet café in your site and if not, a nearby town will surely have one.
You will also receive a phone, so you can start receiving calls more often. Again, it’s free to receive calls but expensive to call. You can still afford a few minutes here and there though, and text messaging works and is a lot cheaper.
You still have access to snail mail, but it takes a trip to Asunción to get it, which could be very far away depending on your location.
The food in Paraguay is hard to describe. Check back later because I plan to do a week in food diary with pictures.
Breakfast is usually coffee mixed with milk, which is really good or cocido, which is like coffee but different. You can probably get your host mother to give you pieces of bread with this sweet spread called dulce de leche or jelly. I even got my host mother, who was super awesome, to cook me a tomato, cheese, and beef omelet on the weekends. This was a special treat and not at all typical. I taught her how and requested it once or twice, and then she took it like a weekend tradition.
You may get a mid morning snack consisting of a few small bananas or oranges, which are peeled and then cut at the top, and you suck the juice instead of eat the orange. Don’t try it our way because their oranges are different and a lot harder/messier to peel and eat. Along with this if you are super lucky like I was and your Mom owns a little store, you might get a sweet (something like a Paraguayan Debbie cake, or cookies and maybe a little juice box or chocolate drink). This was always my favorite. Sadly, I don’t get these at my new house in site.
Lunch is the big meal of the day. You’ll get a main dish, maybe a salad (either lettuce or rice based), and bread/mandioca, plus a juice or soft drink.
Dinner is light. Something like a small portion of pasta, Paraguayan tortillas, pizza, empanadas (deep fried batter with meat and chopped boiled eggs in the middle) In my new house we don’t even eat dinner or if it is offered, it’s a fried egg.
It isn’t uncommon for me to see 3 or more carbs in one meal.
I’ll give a few examples of typical meals:
- Water based soup mixed with veggies which have been liquefied, and chunks of fatty cow meat or sometimes big portions of cow meat still on the bone. This might be served with a lettuce and tomatoes salid, which if you’re lucky will have olive oil and salt, but almost always will come with a lemon for squeezing over the lettuce as a dressing. Sometimes the salad includes sliced boiled eggs. Mandioca and bread served as well.
- Rice with little chunks of cow meat. Repeat the salad from above, and of course mandioca.
- Noodles with chunks of chicken meat. Mandioca/bread.
- Tortillas, which aren’t like Mexican tortillas. It’s like fried batter with a little something (cheese, meat, or veggies) in the middle. Mandioca/bread.
- Soup with beans in it. Salad from above. Mandioca/bread. This was actually my favorite! It was pretty good because the beans were of a good consistency and the soup had a good flavor.
- Asado, which is big chunks of fatty, slimey cow meat grilled to a crisp. Cold white rice with diced tomatoes mixed in. Mandioca/bread.
- Two fried eggs overeasy with little hard balls of bread.
- Homemade pizza, which is a thick soggy crust with a little tomato based sauce, some melted slices of cheese and some sliced onions.
Peace Corps Paraguay has a cook book with recipes that can be made with Paraguayan ingredients. Once you are out of training and after the first 3 months in site, you are allowed to live by yourself, so you could somewhat take control of your eating situation. I had a pretty delicious meal at my PCV site visit, and Liz said she ate like a Queen on her PCV site visit, so it is totally possible. But when you’re eating with Paraguayans just prepare yourself for bland meals, which are edible but not exciting or delicious.
- Don’t stress out. Nothing is as formal, strict, or as hard as you might originally think. Also, once you are a Volunteer, you literally don’t HAVE to do anything. It is probably one of the few times in your life, where you have no worries, no real responsibilities, and no one to answer to. You are free to do whatever you want, and you completely control your personal and professional life. Enjoy it while you can!
- Every one is nervous, so you be excited. People will be constantly feeling a range of emotions. Be the cheerleader...but not the psycho. Help organize gatherings and just have fun. Be positive most of the time but in the right situations between you and your friends don’t be afraid to be real. Don’t complain all the time about the activities and other things you’re doing in training. We had a bit of this in our group, and it gets really annoying. Everyone may feel frustrated from time to time, but you don’t have to verbalize in front of the group.
- Also don’t always ask a lot of questions. CHP had a little roasting skit at the end of training, and that was what they made fun of me for. I always ask questions because I’m genuinely interested, want to respect the speaker when we are all sitting there like a bunch of uninterested idiots, and do it in an effort to build rapport with the speaker in the chance that I need to cross that bridge again, but apparently it can be annoying to others, so if you’re a naturally inquisitive person, you may want to tone that down a notch.
- Don't worry about culture...They will teach you all of it, and you will learn it as you go along. I was so worried I would not know enough history, language, or customs. Peace Corps teaches you EVERYTIHING. You will be taught how the country gained independence, who the president is, cultural fopaux, etc...You will learn everything you need to know...just relax about that.
- Bring a mix of clothes. Peace corps sometimes makes it sounds like all you need are nice clothes. Yes, you are a Business Volunteer, so you will need some, but don't be like most guys here and get bogged down with 6 ties. The guys said they wish they had balanced more comfortable clothes with their business attire. Remember, you are American and therefore different, they will let a lot slide in your attire. Pack what you are comfortable in...but still look presentable of course.
- When you are on your future site visit have a conversation with your future host family setting expectations for rent and for how long you may be staying there. I didn’t say anything, and it was awkward bringing up rent, and they think I’m there for the full 2 years, which will be another awkward conversation if I choose to move out. They even remodeled a room for me and almost built a bathroom. So now I feel awkward bringing up the fact that I may only be there for the first 3-6 months. I’m afraid they may feel I’m not happy in their house, and that isn’t the case at all. I just might want to live with another family for a different experience or live on my own. So be sure to set the expectations up front that you will be paying rent and want to talk about how much (it’s much better to pay rent...you’ll feel much better about it, trust me), and how long you are looking to stay there at a minimum. You can say whatever you want but it’s better to handle it on the front end than have to have awkward conversations later.
- Be prepared to be teased and laughed at and not take it personally. Also, if you are black or hefty, or have a big nose, don’t be surprised if people walk up to you and just bluntly say, “You’re black,” “You’re fat,” or “You’ve got a big nose.” They will also make jokes about their own weight and the weight of others. I don’t know about you but it makes me slightly uncomfortable, and I don’t know how to respond. Another awkward situation is when a Paraguayan female or two are standing near you and a Paraguayan older male in a voice they obviously here and while pointing at them says, “Ipora la Paraguaya verdad,” which translates like the “Paraguayan girls are pretty right?” Sometimes they will keep saying things referring to you and these particular Paraguayan girls. I just say, “Ipora,” and change the subject. It’s awkward if you don’t find them attractive and even more if you do.
- Also, if you are a guy, Paraguayan males are going to be vulgar with you, they are going to ask you if you have scored with a Paraguayan girl yet, and they’re might tease you a bit. You have to just expect it and roll with the punches. They might even be vulgar in earshot of other women or even little girls. If it goes to far, like sometimes they may make comments about young girls, you can stand your ground and make a point, and they’ll pretty much receive it well but won’t fully understand you. That’s machismo in Paraguay...have a sense of humor and pick your battles. Also, along those lines, they're probably going to call you Yankee. They just use that world to classify you as an American. As far as I can tell it isn't meant to be derogatory so don't take offense to it. Although, I did explain that I was from the SOUTH (and proud of it regardless of our stereotypes) and was not a Yankee after being called one so many times! Then they get tripped up when first addressing you because they don't know what to call you. Brad will do just fine. Haha.
- This recommendation comes from another Volunteer's experience; don't badmouth or talk about anyone because almost everyone knows everyone and there is a really good chance they're related
- Cuidado with the towel in the bathroom. There is a really good chance they use that towel to wipe their butts after using the bidet.
- Above all embrace the culture and relax. Just sit back and enjoy your training, your fellow trainees, and your host family. Don’t take anything too seriously. Be positive, patient, try new things, and have an open mind.